Inner City Press Environmental Justice Reporter
1999 Archive: [Some of] March 15-Dec. 31, 1999
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December 27, 1999
An Astroturf (that is, fake grassroots) attempt to invoke environmental justice is being exposed in South Florida. The real estate developers who are lobbying to turn Homestead Air Force Base into a commercial airport in August submitted a Petition for Extraordinary Relief to Attorney General Reno, purportedly on behalf of local people of color clamoring for the development. But the petition was on the letterhead of DC law / lobbying firm Verner Liipfert (whose partners include Bob Dole and George Mitchell), and most of the signatory groups have unlisted telephone numbers. The Mayor Shiver of Homestead admits he has no idea how to contact one of the signatories, RCH-Haitian Community Radio....
On the corporate beat, Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, Connecticut has acknowledged that it leaked 50,000 gallons of jet fuel, some of it into the Connecticut River. And Pennsylvanias Action Mining Inc. is being fined $50,000 for secretly installing an illegal piping system to drain contaminated water from a Somerset Country, PA mine for five years. These battles are not over...
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December 20, 1999
Ah, the American corporation... On Dec. 16, American Airlines pled guilty to illegally storing hazardous materials at airports, and agreed to an $8 million fine. The key admission: that the airline and its parent, AMR Corp., stored a 55-gallon drum of flammable pesticide at the Miami International Airport for three years, even after the drum caught fire. Also revealed during the investigation: American Airlines stored loans of paint, chemicals, poison and other flammable compounds on airplanes without permits. AMR has agreed to henceforth monitor hazardous waste handling at the more than 200 airports that the airline serves. The findings dont seem to bode well for the airlines security precautions, either...
Meanwhile, in Wal-Marts most recent 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company tersely discloses that the EPA is seeking to impose a $5.6 million fine for violating stormwater permits in three states, and a separate fine on five Wal-Mart contractors for permit violations in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.
On the border, an-EPA funded study has found that over 10 percent of the children in Tijuana, Mexico, suffer from lead poisoning, mostly due to contaminated soil.
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December 13, 1999
In Missouri, Republican Senator Kit Bond and business groups are going grassroots (that would be, Astroturf, fake grassroots) to urge environmentalist to drop litigation that aims to force the EPA to enforce the Clean Air Act in St. Louis. Kit says: The air in St. Louis is getting cleaner. They dont have to cut off our highway funds for clean air. He and corporate groups say theyve collected 10,000 signatures urging an end to the litigation. Meanwhile in Congress, Kit is pushing a bill that would prevent the withholding of federal highway funds, regardless of clean air compliance, and whether or not a locality even has a clean air plan....
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December 6, 1999
The politics of environmental justice are heating up once again, this time courtesy of Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA). Billey has sent EPA Administrator Carol Browner a series of questions about EPAs public statements on EJ cases. The questions include: What is your view as to the propriet[y] of the EPA and the White House actions involving the public announcement of the Title VI investigation into the South Bronx matter? Do you believe it was proper for this announcement to be made without consultation with OCR [EPAs Office of Civil Rights] and prior to OCRs formal review of the complaint? Bliley claims to have found a similar pattern of politicization in a recent EJ complaint from Indianapolis, and House Commerce Committee sources note the upcoming Senate race in New York, and that Indianapolis Republic mayor is a policy advisor to George W. Bush.
EJ advocates respond that the solution is investigation and action on more EJ cases, which is both needed and would rebut any connection between the political party of the defendant citys mayor and the EJ action...
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November 29, 1999
Houston, Texas has now surpassed Los Angeles as the U.S.s leading producer of smog. State regulators are blaming the smog increase last month on Chevron Chemical Co.s Baytown plant, saying its emissions of ethylene and propylene may have exceeded allowable levels by 25 to 30 times.
In ICPs home base, a $60 million plan has been unveiled to clean up and restore the Bronx River, currently bordered by industrial uses and filled with debris: rusted out carcasses of cars, who knows, maybe even Jimmy Hoffa. Slated for construction is an expansion of Starlight Park near 174th Street, a waterfront esplanade in Soundview, and a 4-acre park next to the Tiffany Street Pier in Hunts Point. Bronx residents remember the Tiffany Street pier, once a site of swimming, becoming rotted out, then replaced with a pier of recycled plastic, which caught fire. What goes around comes around -- at least one hopes...
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November 22, 1999
The politics of the environment were on display last week. At the national / global level, Al Gore on November 16 announced that President Clinton will sign an executive order requiring environmental review of all major trade agreements. The announcement was clearly intended to shore up environmentalists support for Gores candidacy, and to downplay the conflict between the New Democrats advocacy for multinational corporations and their publicly-stated support of environmental policies.
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November 15, 1999
In Washington, Republican Senate leader Trent Lotts been pushing for an exemption from Superfund liability for recycling facilities -- make that, junk yards, scrap metal yards and battery recycling plants. These facilities, which are disproportionately in lower-income communities of color, would be exempted from paying clean-up costs of their pollution. The provision, which Lotts been trying to attach as a rider to an appropriation bill (S. 1528), is being lobbied for by Haley Barbour, the former National Republican Committee chairman, now representing the recycling industry. Lott and Barbour indicate if they dont slip it in in this session of Congress, theyll try it next session.
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November 8, 1999
Ah, corporate compliance... In Washington state, Weyerhaeuser Co. a week ago agreed to civil penalties for violating state regulations by cutting trees and dragging logs through a creek in northeast Clark County. Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co.s housing development in east King Country, meanwhile, has wracked up 320 violations of state water-qualify standards since 1995. Weyerhaeuser owns a savings bank, which will be reviewed in coming weeks...
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November 1, 1999
In substantive environmental news, the EPA last week designated a large plume of carcinogenic solvents that runs for six blocks under Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a federal Superfund site. One might assume this will lead to a removal of this hazard -- but one might be wrong. Also last week, Tennessees state Superfund investigators agreed to Norfolk Southerns proposal to simply cover hazardous waste at the railroads Coster Yards site in Knoxville, rather than remove it. In Delaware, a barge loading oil from a refinery dock spilled over 100 barrels of oil into the Delaware River, one mile away from Pea Patch Island, a rookery where herons and egrets nest each spring.
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October 25, 1999
The aftermath of decades of pollution continue to be felt. In Jacksonville, Florida, concern about neighborhoods built on top a dumpsite the city used in the 1950s continue to grow. The local Citizens Organized for Environmental Justice charges that city officials in the 1950s and 1960s knew these were dumpsites and still allowed mostly African American people to buy and build houses there. Then, the citys power structure kept quiet about the dangers. Now Mayor John Delany is spreading top soil over the incinerator ash.
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October 18, 1999
Oregon -- Two contractors at the Hanford nuclear reservation, Bechtel Hanford Inc. and Roy F. Weston Inc., allegedly continued work despite discovering hundreds of barrels of uranium waste and oils laced with PCBs. Weston employee Matthew Taylor filed a complaint with the Labor Department that Weston had employees remove 350 of the barrels with their bare hands, and alleges that he was harassed after blowing the whistle. Westons now settled the harassment claim (Portland Oregonian, Oct. 13).
Inner City Press continues to note that environmental justice and community reinvestment are two sides of the same coin. Most recent exhibit: check out the similarity between Justice Scalias denunciation of environmental citizen suits and the statement of Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm (R-TX) to the National Association of Federal Credit Unions earlier in October, regarding his opposition to minimal community reinvestment requirements for credit unions: This process of stealing peoples deposits and stealing peoples wealth is coming to an end. American Bankers, Oct. 11, 1999.
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October 11, 1999
Pittsfield, Massachusetts -- General Electric has entered an agreement with the Department of Justice, under which it will pay $250 million to settle charges that it polluted the Housatonic River with PCBs. EPA Region 1 Administrator John DeVillars calls it the most significant settlement yet for the rivers environmental restoration. $50 million of the settlement would go for brownfields projects in Pittsfield, to boost economic development. The U.S. District Court in Springfield, MA has yet to sign off on the agreement.
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October 4, 1999
In Congress, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) has proposed H.R. 1300, which would devolve most of the EPAs duties under the 1980 Superfund law to the states and municipalities. The bill, backed by corporate interests as well as local governments, passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee in August, by a vote of 69-2. Among other things, the bill would grant exclusive jurisdiction over brownfield (or non-national priorities list) sites to states and local governments.
Lets examine, then, some sample developments at the local level. In the South Bronx of New York City, American Marine Rail L.L.C. has applied to open a 5,200-ton-a-day waste transfer station on land owned by a decades-old Manhattan-based community development corporation, the Harlem Commonwealth Council. The New York Times, in an informative Sept. 29 article, reported that Harlem Commonwealth officials did not return repeated phone calls.
Harlem Commonwealth Council is located at 361 West 125th Street, and has been granted millions of dollars by the federal government since the 1970s. In 1975, it bought a hotel in the U.S. Virgin Islands; in the same time frame, it bought the Washburn Wire Factory in East Harlem, stating it would retain hundreds of jobs. Washburns been vacant for years, and is now slated for a Home Depot. HCC, along with the Washington-based Opportunities Funding Corporation, owned nearly 50% of Freedom National Bank in Harlem, until that banks shut down by the FDIC.
In the Bronx, Harlem Commonwealth Council owns land at 500 and 1132 Oak Point Avenue in Hunts Point. In 1980, then Congressman Robert Garcia announced that HCC was being given a $2.8 million federal grant to buy a 15.5 acres South Bronx site formerly owned by the National Gypsum Company. Garcia said... the project, which he said would begin in six months, was expected to generate 300 private jobs and more than $5 million in private investment. NYT, Sept. 16, 1980, Pg. B3. Theres been little follow up. And now, HCC leases its Bronx land to a waste transfer station, and declines to return reporters phone calls. Welcome to the South Bronx, which is replete with other examples of the devolution of environmental protection responsibilities to deal-making local officials.
Final example (for this week): Browning Ferris Industries has applied to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to convert the medical waste incinerator at 910 East 138th Street in the Bronx into a medical waste transfer station. Comments are due to the DEC by October 29...
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September 27, 1999
Detroit, Michigan: The community struggle to close down the Henry Ford Hospital medical waste incinerator is picking up steam. The incinerator had been temporarily closed in December 1998 to install air scrubbers, and was reopened in May. But recent tests show it is emitting toxic cadmium at twice the level allowed by the EPA. Two Wayne County Commissioners, and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, are calling for its permanent closure. Hospital spokesman Mike Whelan ascribes the cadmium emissions to correctable mistakes at the hospital: the incineration of rechargeable batteries. DWEJ says Detroit residents already bear too great a burden from pollution.
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September 20, 1999
This week in environmental justice, we step back from the community-by-community reporting, to look at the EPAs National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. The EPA set up this Council in September 1993, to advise it on EJ matters. In late August, 1999, the International Subcommittee of the NEJAC convened a roundtable on environmental issues in the U.S.-Mexico border region, held in National City, California.
But two current NEJAC members particularly stand out, on the list provided on the EPA web site. One is Leslie Ann Beckhoff, a spokeswoman / lobbyist for Dupont and its energy subsidiary, Conoco. Significantly, Conocos Petrozuate Syncrude project in Westlake, Louisiana, is currently subject to an EJ-like complaint before the EPA. See, e.g., Chemical Market Reporter, June 28, 1999, at 5. Earlier this year, the EPA itself imposed a $69,000 fine for repeated hazardous waste problems at Duponts chemical plant and waste incinerator in Belle, West Virginia. See, e.g., Charleston Gazette, February 11, 1999, at 6B. And, in terms of lobbying, Conoco was a major force behind legislation proposed in Oklahoma this year, to provide privileged immunity to the results of companys environmental audits. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson opposed the bill, saying it would make it impossible for his office to enforce environmental laws. See the Daily Oklahoman, March 4, 1999, at 8.
While the Federal Advisory Committee Act requires councils like NEJAC to have a fairly balanced membership in terms of points of view represented, Dupont / Conocos representation on a council that is supposed to advise the EPA about environmental justice is going a little far. Consider that, for federal procurement, rules are being considered with would discourage contracting with violators of federal law (see Dupont settlement and fine, above).
Also on the Council is Sue Briggum, who is a registered lobbyist for Waste Management (and now USA Waste). As reported last week, Waste Management and USA Waste have applied to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for various permit modifications, to begin operating yet another waste transfer station in the South Bronx, in the Harlem River Yards. The companies' ability to commerce operation of yet another waste transfer station in the South Bronx, in the Harlem River Yards, is conditioned on their reducing putrescible solid waste (PSW) transfer station capacity elsewhere in the Bronx by 3,000 tons per day. According to the NYSDEC's August 12, 1999 Notice, the companies now claim that they are unable to comply with this condition, and ask to be allowed to use construction and demolition debris (C&D) capacity, in addition to PSW capacity, in order to meet the 3,000 ton offset requirement. The Notice includes of list of the facilities that the Applicant proposes to close or at which it proposes to reduce permit capacity In April 1999, a state inspector found that Waste Managements facility at 900 East 138th Street is actually being used for maintenance, not as a waste transfer station...
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September 13, 1999
Albany, New York -- General Electric is attacking an EPA study that found that cancer risks are raised by eating fish from the upper Hudson River. People arent eating fish, GE vice president Stephen Ramsey said. GE dumped polychlorinated biphenyls into the Hudson River from plants in Fort Edwards and Hudson Falls from the 1940s to 1976. The EPAs course of action is expected to be decided in 2001, and, according to non-corporate environmental scientists, should include dredging downstream from the two above-named GE plants -- with GE footing the bill.
South Bronx, New York -- USA Waste has applied to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for various permit modifications, to begin operating yet another waste transfer station in the South Bronx, in the Harlem River Yards. Several years ago, the NRDC (and Ms. Miller-Travis) tried to shout down opposition to NRDCs still-planned paper mill in the Harlem River Yards, by emphasizing the no project with NRDC and the Bronx community development group Banana Kelly involved would ever pollute the South Bronx. Well, the paper mill may never be built, but USA Waste is now ready to open a waste transfer station in the Yards...
Currently, USA Wastes ability to commerce operation of yet another waste transfer station in the South Bronx, in the Harlem River Yards, is conditioned on USA Waste reducing putrescible solid waste (PSW) transfer station capacity elsewhere in the Bronx by 3,000 tons per day. According to the agencys August 12, 1999 Notice, USA Waste now claims that it is unable to comply with this condition, and asks to be allowed to use construction and demolition debris (C&D) capacity, in addition to PSW capacity, in order to meet the 3,000 ton offset requirement. The Notice includes of list of the facilities that the Applicant proposes to close or at which it proposes to reduce permit capacity.
In April 1999, a state inspector found that Waste Managements facility at 900 East 138th Street is actually being used for maintenance, not as a waste transfer station. See, e.g., New York Times of August 24, 1999, at B1. USA Waste uses its proposed closure of that facility to account for a purported reduction of 287.5 tons per day of PSW. There would, in fact, be no actual reduction. Granting these Applications and allowing USA Waste to commerce operations in the Harlem River Yards would result in a further increase in waste being transported through, and processed in, the South Bronx.
The NYSDEC should also closely inquire into USA Wastes purported compliance with the other condition imposed in 1997, the so-called host community benefit plan. USA Waste proposes to meet this condition by granting $1 million to Hunts Point Multi-Service Center, purportedly to open an asthma center. This purported compliance was barely vetted in the affected communities; housing and good government advocates have long questioned management at HPMSC. On the current record, allowing USA Waste to commerce operations in the HRY would have a negative impact on the South Bronx and its residents.
here are other questions about the Applicants(s) that the NYSDEC should inquire into before ruling on this Application. See, for example, The Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch of April 23, 1998, Regulators Discover Illegal Medical Waste, reporting that Virginia state regulators discovered illegal medical waste in a truckload of bailed trash that originated in Waste Managements garbage transfer station in the Bronx. Note also the serious allegations of securities fraud that continue to swirl around Waste Management. If, as should be required, USA Waste modifies its proposals, USA Wastes new proposals must be put out for further public review and public comment.
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August 30, 1999
Jacksonville, Florida -- Concern is mounting about toxins in landfills that were used to dump ash from trash incinerators for decades. Among the worst of the sites is an old city-run landfill called Doeboy Dump. Area resident Willie Jackson said the area was an inviting spot for dumping in the 1960s, because it was a rural area then and in an unincorporated part of Duval County. 'It was a black neighborhood, and it was outside the city limits. They just dumped their trash and went back to town,' he said. Residents are forming an organization to ensure local input into clean up plans.
South Bronx, New York -- USA Waste is planning a million dollar pay off to Ramon Velez Hunts Point Multi-Service Clinic, to get approval of a new waste transfer station in the Harlem River Yards. Its similar to the paper mills reportedly six million dollar pay-off to Banana Kelly, except that USA Waste is represented by Dennis Vacco, Republican ex-Attorney General, while the paper mill is steered by NRDC...
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August 16, 1999
West Oakland: Congresswoman Barbara Lee joined community residents to protest the state transportation agency, Caltrans, for already violating a cleanup agreement made with residents three weeks ago. Until July 1998, soil contaminated with vinyl chloride was being burned in an incinerator adjacent to residential areas. The cleanup agreement requires Caltrans to cover the site with 7,000 cubic yards of top soil. But Caltrans has tried to begin the work before monitoring controls are in place...
Finally (for this week), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has just published notice of USA Wastes application to modify its permit to run a waste transfer station in the Bronx Harlem River Yards. USA Waste had committed to eliminating 3,000 tons per day of its putrescile solid waste capacity elsewhere in the Bronx. USA Waste now claims that its divestitures, while merging with Waste Management, no longer allow it to meet this goal, and that it should be allowed to comply by including elimination of construction and demolition debris capacity in its offset plan. Comments are due on September 22.
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August 9, 1999
Republican Congressman Vito Fossella (R-NY) has taken his sound byte on the road. The sound byte fell on his lap in March: the EPA came to New York City to investigate environmental justice complaints about the proliferation of waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, and declined his invitation to visit the Fresh Kills dump on Staten Island.
Fossella quickly went to the floor of the House of Representatives, and denounced this as environmental injustice. An analogy: this is akin to criticizing a bank regulator for investigating a claim of discrimination in lending, rather than automatic teller machine surcharges more generally. Theres no contradiction: each is analyzed under a different applicable law. Fossellas claim seems to be that our government is too solicitous of low income and minority communities.
The EPAs EJ initiative is a minuscule part of its budget, is based on a presidential Executive Order, and findings that toxic uses have disproportionately been sited in minority communities. There are various existing buttons at the EPA, and in the U.S. Code, that Fossella could push about the Fresh Kills dump. But he sees the opportunity to ridicule a single program requiring the EPA to consider civil rights violations in the siting of toxic facilities as a way to distinguish himself from the 535 other ambitious Congresspeople. Hence:
Fossella published an op-ed on August 6 in the Detroit News, the anti-EJ newspaper of choice, nationwide. Fossella begins his op-ed by appealing to [r]esidents of Detroit and Michigan, and ends it with a question that Michiganians and Detroiters have been asking for some time. Does Fossella represent Michigan, or Detroit? No -- he is a freshman Congressman from Staten Island, New York. With national aspirations, apparently. Or, frustrated that the New York dailies didnt view his sound byte as worthy of a whole op-ed, he sought out a sympathetic daily elsewhere. Perhaps he could modify it for the Louisiana market...
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August 2, 1999
South Bronx, New York -- Reportedly, Waste Management, the garbage behemoth that has gained a City contract to transport waste to Virginia, is angling to open a waste transfer facility in the Harlem River Yards. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is considering allowing Waste Management to process up to 10,500 tons a day in the Harlem River Yards, purportedly in exchange for closing or selling some of the companys transfer stations in Hunts Point. This tonnage is well beyond the volume of garbage created in the Bronx; furthermore, Fransesco Galesis Harlem River Yard Ventures 99-year sweetheart lease for the property reportedly precluded Galesi from using the land for waste-related activities.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of pending environmental justice complaints pending at the federal EPA, about the concentration of waste transfer stations in the South Bronx. DEC seems to have an interest in appearing to decrease the NUMBER of transfer stations in the South Bronx, even if the actual tonnage being processed here goes up. Local politics has reared its head: Community Planning Board 1 (which adopted a secret yes we approve, then public no we dont approach to Galesis overall HRY project) is concerned that the transfer stations WMI would close are in Community Board 2, in Hunts Point.
It is the politics here that stinks more, this week, than the garbage.
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July 26, 1999
The California Air Resources Board has granted Chevron a variance, allowing it to sell conventional gasoline in the state, rather than the lower-emission CARB gasoline that is otherwise required. ARBs Jerry Martin states that The variance was granted to avoid a supply disruption cause by unforeseen problems at Chevrons Richmond refinery. Chevrons refinery there has suffered two explosions, rendering its hydro-treating units inoperable. Chevron will pay a fine of 15 cents per gallon of non-CARB gasoline sold. This fine will be devoted to CARBs program of purchasing older cars. CARB claims that the variance is expected to bring a 3-to-1 air emissions benefit in the future. But reports have grown that many of the old cars CARB buys no longer work at all, and therefore present no threat to air quality. Meanwhile, in Southern California, the South Coast Air Quality Management District just held a public meeting at Valencia High School in the San Clarita Valley about air quality. Developing...
South Bronx, New York -- Opposition is growing to American Marine Rails proposal to build a 5-acre waste transfer station in Hunts Point, right next to the New York Fertilizer Co., which processes 750 tons of sludge daily. American Marine Rails facility would process 5,000 tons of garbage each day -- more than three times the volume created daily by all Bronx households. Hunts Point already has 25 waste transfer stations, which handle 12,000 tons of waste each day. Bronx residents create 1,850 tons of garbage daily, compared to Manhattans 2,400 tons. Meanwhile, a meeting is scheduled on environmental justice issues at EPAs New York office on July 29. Developing...
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July 19, 1999
Denver, Colorado -- The Swansea neighborhood in north Denver is the second-most polluter area in the city, according to EPA data. Its population is two-thirds Latino. In the mid 1980s, the city government declared it an enterprise zone, and told community residents this would result in new jobs for them. Today, 12% of the neighborhoods work force is still unemployed, the highest rate in the city.
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July 12, 1999
And the beat goes on. On the East Side of Cleveland, the Ohio EPA has drafted an all-in-one permit for a plant of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company. Numerous grassroots organizations opposed the permit at a hearing on July 6, stating that low-income neighborhoods or neighborhoods of color [would] be receiving a disproportionate amount of air pollution. The Ohio agency is attaching the public comments to the proposed permit it is submitting to the Federal EPA in Washington. Developing...
The federal EPA has issued for public comment an interim policy about relocating residents and businesses near Superfund sites. Click here to view. Take a look, and let your views be known...
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Allan Carroll recently issued a preliminary decision to deny a federal permit for the city of Newport News, Virginia to build a 1,500 acre reservoir adjacent to the Mattaponi Indian Reservation, citing Executive Order 12,898 (the Executive Order on Environmental Justice). Expect various pro-corporate legal groups to become involved in the process. Senator John Warner and Reps. Herbert Bateman and Robert Scott have already written to the Corps saying they are deeply troubled by the decision.
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June 21, 1999
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has allowed its staff of civil rights investigators to dwindle from six to two. Detroit News, June 14, 1999. Even when the EPA has six investigators, it called this number inadequate to handle the case load. Fourteen new environmental justice complaints have been filed with the EPA in the fifth five months of 1999; the backlog has increased 30%, to 44 cases.
Those skeptical of EJ legal theories, like Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), claim that community-based groups only want to delay projects. If thats true, it is ironic that attacks on EPAs budget and jurisdiction have just this result: delay. As does EPAs putting back the release date of its new EJ rules (itll now be issued in the fall, rather than in early summer as previously announced).
Opponents of environmental justice are now piling on: witness the speech on the House floor on June 15 by Republican Congressman Fossella, of Staten Island, NY. Mr. Fossella has taken offense that when the EPA came to New York, in connection with EJ complaints about the proliferation of waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, the EPA did not also visit Staten Island, with its Fresh Kills dump (in the process of being closed down). Fossella: when we asked for the same level, if not less, than what they did for the South Bronx, we were told no. That is not justice, environmental or otherwise. Cong. Rec. of June 15, Pg. H4328.
By Mr. Fossellas logic, the EPAs two EJ investigators should be required to check out any and all environmental issues in any community they visit, or be accused of reverse racism. No one has apparently asked Rep. Fossellas views of, for example, George Bushs Americans with Disabilities Act. Middle-income Staten Island is being snubbed, for the South Bronx. And that, my friends, is not justice, environmental or otherwise, according to Rep. Fossella.
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June 14, 1999
Accountability in the siting of environmentally destructive projects is getting an airing in Washington, while the real battles, under a hodge-podge of amorphous laws and EPA rules, take place in communities all over the country (and world).
At a symposium on environmental justice held in D.C. in late May, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that African American, Hispanic and Native American children are overly represented among the three to four million who live with a mile of an EPA-designated hazardous waste site. Witnesses used the example of Convent, Louisiana, where, after years of struggle, the Louisiana Department of Environment finally turned down the permit of Shintech to build a polyvinyl chloride plant. According to the U.S. Census, the average American was exposed to seven pounds of toxic air pollutant releases in 1995. In Convent, it was 2,277 pounds per person.
The fledgling legal underpinning of environmental justice, however, are under attack in Washington. The EPAs interim rules for considering EJ complaints have been attacked and essentially stopped; pro-corporate legal groups have filed motions to dismiss all EJ complaints pending before the EPA. While these attacks are draped in a language of concern for low-income workers and job-seekers, the Washington symposium (see above) including presentation of economic data for Louisiana during the 1980s suggesting that the chemical industry was clearly not an engine for growth in jobs and income among Louisianas black residents. Deborah Mathis, Gannett News Service. It comes down to a basic issue of corporate accountability. Again from California (from a struggle around a proposal Wal-Mart distribution center): the developer asks why these issues entered into a property-rights entitlement. Riverside Press-Enterprise, June 9. Thats the dynamic. To be continued...
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May 24, 1999
Los Angeles -- A hazardous waste facility in South Central was been ordered to shut down by July 1. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control found that Statewide Environmental Services plant in the 12600 block of South Main Street had mixed incompatible wastes, had put ignitable wastes within 50 feet of homes, and had kept inaccurate records of wastes received and stored at the facility. The companys last administrative appeal was denied May 19. Neighborhood residents, who have fought the facility since 1985, are breathing a sign of relief. The companys owner, Matthew Stewart, said that although we had hoped to remain at Main Street until our zoning expires in a couple of years, business considerations dictated that we conduct our operations elsewhere. That elsewhere -- has not yet been determined..
South Bronx -- Congressman Jose E. Serrano on May 17 asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expand its environmental justice probe to include the NYC Department of Sanitations actions resulting in the clustering of waste transfer stations in the South Bronx. In March, the EPA agreed to investigate the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, but declined to include the Sanitation Department, allegedly because this department had not received federal funds. Rep. Serranos letter to Anne Goode, director of the EPAs Office of Civil Rights, asserts that the Sanitation Department received $16 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in fiscal years 1997 and 1998, and from the EPA itself in October 1998.
Conceptually related, this report from Namibia (from Inner City Press Global Inner Cities page): Foreign minister Theo-Ben Gurirab has exposed a plan to dump 100,000 tons of toxic waste from New York City in Walvis Bay Municipality. Local officials were reportedly on the verge of accepting a proposal from a South African company, EnvironServ, to pay to dump NYC hazardous waste in this developing country. The Namibian Constitution is one of the few in the developing world to make reference to environmental protection. Now EnvironServ is negotiating how much to pay to burn obsolete Danish pesticides in Mozambique. The Development Agency of Denmark is stockpiling obsolete toxic chemicals, with a plan to burn 200 tons in a waste incinerator, location to be determined. A desperate (or corrupt) enough country is sure to be found. International environmental organizations are beginning to mobilize around the issue. Developing...
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May 17, 1999
Holly Spring, North Carolina -- Community residents are gearing up to challenge a permit granted earlier this year to open a 471-acres landfill just outside their town. Appeals of the permit have already been filed with the states Office of Administrative Hearings, which expects to hear the appeals in July. Preparations are being made for a court campaign, on issues including environmental justice (the landfill would border an African-American community). Residents Against the Landfill are interviewing lawyers for this fight. Meanwhile, Wake County Attorney Mike Farrell says the county has already let the contract for clearing and preparing for Phase One, while the county itself is appealing the permit, trying to remove from it the condition that the landfill could only begin accepting garbage if and when the N.C. 55 route is complete. Developing...
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May 10, 1999
San Antonio, Texas -- Residents of communities surrounding Kelly Air Force Base here, 96% of whom are Latino, have filed discrimination complaints with the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Defense and of Heath and Human Services. Toxic uses at the base, slated to be closed in July 2001, have resulted in a plume of poisoned groundwater that has migrated off the base and under thousands of homes, some three miles from the base. The Air Force has yet to announce any plans for off-base clean up. Residents have asked for the suspension of all funding to the city of San Antonio and to the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission until the discriminatory conduct of these entities is adequately addressed. The roles of Texas Governor George Bush, and of Texas Senator Phil Gramm, are being explored. Developing...
Bronx, N.Y. -- The smokestack of Browning-Ferris Industrys and Bronx Lebanon Hospitals medical waste incinerator on 138th Street in the Bronx were finally removed on May 5, after seven years of mounting community opposition. Bronx Lebanon used the incinerator to burn not only its own medical waste, but that of twelve other hospitals. The incinerator, which will now be converted into a waste transfer station, is four short blocks from seven public housing developments. The South Bronx Clean Air Coalition, and students from a half dozen area schools, held a ceremony Wednesday morning as the smokestack was removed, and vowed to continue their campaign against the many waste transfer stations in the South Bronx. BFI will now use the Locust Avenue site to store medical waste, pending its shipment to an incinerator upstate, in Sheridan, Chautauqua County, near Buffalo.
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April 28, 1999 -- The Environmental Protection Agency has decided that while data that is public under the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act must be made available under Freedom of Information Act, the EPA will not post it on its web site, so that terrorists cannot use it as an easy targeting tool. (This according to the EPAs Timothy Field, in Senate testimony last month). The position of the EPA (and of Rep. Tom Bliley, R-VA) appears to be that while the data must be available to the public under FOIA, it should not be EASILY available. New, contorted FOIA interpretations proliferate by the day -- waiting to be litigated....
April 26, 1999 -- Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) has reintroduced his Environmental Justice Act legislation, this time with 20 co-sponsors. The bill would require the EPA to identify and provide relief to the twenty most polluted communities in the United States, and would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to study the link between pollution and the health of resident living in these communities.
In the Bronx, Browning-Ferris Industries has finalized its agreement with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, to start on May 5, 1999, to demolish the smoke stacks on its incinerator on Locust Avenue. The South Bronx Clean Air Coalition notes the connection to Cinco de Mayo, the day in 1862 when Mexican soldiers defeated a French army at Puebla. Celebrations are planned. As noted below, however, BFI is being allowed to continue to use the site as a waste transfer station, and to increase the volume of medical waste it will process.
A final note: plaudits where they are due. Bob Kuehn, who has been the director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic during its fights with the Shintech polyvinyl chloride plant proposed for Louisianas Cancer Alley (and in related fights with Louisiana Governor Mike Foster), is leaving the Clinic, to accept a position at the University of Michigan. Where a similar clinical program (and effective countering of polluter-funded politicians, and ideological local media) is needed. God speed.
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April 7, 1999
A delegation of environmental activist from Louisiana is testifying before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. The issues include not only the proposed Shintech polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant (now targeted at Plaquemine and not Convent, La.), but also the Superfund site at Press Park (DDT and dioxins), and the Shell Oil victims of Norco, Louisiana. Activists in other states, including New York, are watching closely.
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The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced on March 24, 1999, that Browning Ferris Industries and Bronx Lebanon Hospital, co-operators of a medical waste incinerator in Port Morris in the South Bronx, will finally tear down the stacks of the incinerator, which has been closed since 1997. BFI will pay a token $50,000 fine for excessive emission of carbon monoxide. Accountability of Bronx Lebanon Hospital for having sponsored this incinerator in 1992, despite being inundated with cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses? None. The DEC's Order on Consent, at Section X, states that "Bronx Lebanon... has no obligations hereunder." Also, BFI now says that it will use the site as a waste-transfer station, and that it hopes to double the amount of red bag medical waste it processes each day. Larry Merington, the facility's vice president for medical waste, says that BFI is "looking forward to increased business as we move forward." BFI admits that less than 20% of the 25 tons of medical waste trucked into the facility each day is generated in the Bronx. Still developing....
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March 15, 1999 -- The U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency have opened an inquiry into the health effects of 35 waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, explicitly on environmental justice grounds. In confirming the inquiry, Bradley Campbell of the White Housing Council on Environmental Quality cited the allegation that these city and state facilities are being sited in a way that imposes on low-income and minority communities disproportionate environmental health threats... That is an allegation that this administration takes very seriously.
Currently, more than 50% of New York Citys commercial waste and 30% of its overall garbage is concentrated in waste transfer stations in the South Bronx -- and 70% of New York Citys sludge (that is, from toilets) is processed into fertilizer pellets at the New York Organic Fertilizer complex here. Hospitalization for asthma in Hunts Point, The Bronx, is the highest in the United States; over 20% of the neighborhoods children have been diagnosed with asthma.
The Citys DEP, and the States DEC, have done nothing to address these problems, but rather have continued handing out waste transfer station permits in these neighborhoods. Now a Federal inquiry has been opened, with an expression of serious[ness} from the White Housing Council on Environmental Quality. Updates forthcoming...
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In environmental justice gossip and scandal, fallout continues from the EPAs hasty retraction of a job offer to Vernice Miller, of NRDC. A resume that Ms. Miller submitted to the EPA on September 4, 1998, claimed that she has received a masters degree in environmental policy from Columbia University in 1993. The brouhaha began on October 27, when journalist David Mastio, of the Detroit News Washington Bureau, began asking questions about Ms. Millers educational credentials. In response, Ms. Miller claimed that she had completed all necessary course work for the degree, but simply did not receive it. On October 28, she had two Columbia University officials fax letters saying that she has completed some courses toward a masters degree. That night, the EPAs Anne Goode rescinded the job offer, and, the next day, officials with the Kellogg Foundation said they were reviewing their records to ascertain if they were misled when they awarded Miller a fellowship in 1997. Ominously, the Detroit News has noted that [f]alse statements to the federal government, if proven, are a felony.
But-- the beat goes on. The Onondaga Nation in upstate New York is petitioning to suspend operations of a mine it calls a museum of environmental disasters; the West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice is protesting the federal governments failure to tear down the 300-foot smokestack at an abandoned lead smelter in West Dallas.
In the Bronx, New York, a survey recently completed by the citys Department of Health has found that the students of Public Schools 48, 60 and 75 in Hunts Point are three times more likely to have asthma than the national average -- fully 25% of the students at these schools have asthma. Meanwhile, the city and state are granting permits for more and more waste transfer stations in Hunts Point, Port Morris, Zerega, and other areas of the Bronx.
Also, the City administration is proceeding with a plan to build a $660 million water filtration plant under Van Cortlandt Park, despite nearly unanimous opposition in the community, including votes against the project by Bronx Community Planning Boards 7, 8 and 12. Under the New York City Charter, however, these Community Board votes are merely advisory. Expect litigation, on procedural grounds, once the Mayors Office gives its formal approval for the project.
One word of enforcement -- though by a jury in Albany, New York, rather than in the Bronx: Gurmeet Sinhg Dhinsa and others charges with racketeering with him have been ordered to pay over $10 million for cleanup costs for the pollution at a gas station Mr. Dhinsa ran, at 242 East 138th Street in the Bronx. By the time he was arrested in 1997, Mr. Dhinsa had amassed a 50-gas station empire, by, Federal prosecutors say, ordering contract killings (as well as the pollution for which he has been fined). Inner City Reporter will continue to follow this case.
In positive news, funding has finally become available for a much-needed clean up of the Bronx River...
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